Olympia's proposal to reduce parking at new residences draws public outcry


The Olympia Planning Commission held a public hearing on Monday, March 20, to discuss proposed parking code amendments that would reduce parking requirements for residential uses, including for multifamily developments near frequent transit routes.

Fourteen community members participated in the public process. Principal Planner Joyce Phillips mentioned that one of the proposed changes is to reduce the parking requirement for multifamily and apartment dwellings from the current 1.5 spaces to zero to 1.25 spaces. It includes market-rate units, those in HDC 1, HDC 2, or UR zones, studio apartments, and those with very low or extremely low incomes.

The community members' opinions on the proposed zero to 1.25 parking spaces are divided.

Zero parking spaces

Retired planner and long-time resident Mike McCormick said that making the minimum parking for specific areas of Olympia zero and limiting units to one parking space per unit "a simple and effective step."

"It's time to move beyond tinkering and embrace solutions that may be uncomfortable but necessary. I know there is controversy and opposition to these ideas, but I believe that they are in the best interest of our community's future. It's time to take bold action and not shy away from the challenges we face," McCormick said.

Olympia resident Ethan Magnuson wants to see Olympia become less car-dependent and move towards a city where other modes of transportation are considered the norm. 

He said getting rid of parking in some areas would help increase density and ridership on transit and make the city more walkable.

To improve public transportation, Robert Vanderpool believed it necessary to densify the area and limit the space dedicated to parked vehicles.

He cited the Intercity Transit strategic plan, which states that densification is necessary to add more routes and services in Olympia, Lacey, and Tumwater areas.

"I strongly support the idea of eliminating parking minimums because I want to live in a walkable, safe, and climate-conscious city," Vanderpool said.

Janae Huber believed cars contributed to various negative impacts, including climate change, health issues, and the housing affordability crisis.

She advocates tying parking rules to Thurston Climate Mitigation goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45% below 2015 levels by 2030. "That future is just seven years away. We have a long way to go actually to reduce our emissions."

She added that the city's comprehensive plan envisions land use that minimizes environmental harm and creates safe, walkable and accessible neighborhoods. "To achieve these human-centered goals, we must stop giving motor vehicle storage."

Criticizing the process

Olympia property owner Walter Jorgensen criticized Planning Commission for how the proposed change to the parking code was made. Jorgensen noted that the changes – changing the minimum parking space to zero and maximum to 1.25 spaces per unit – were suggested by only two commissioners at a meeting.

He said the March 6 meeting barely had a quorum, and there was no vote or "redlining" of the changes. 

He added that the proposed changes in the parking requirement would create a parking shortage and make it difficult for people with kids or with groceries to rely on alternative transportation methods.

Larry Dzieza, the Council of Neighborhood Associations (CNA) president, advocated for a transparent and inclusive process. Last Friday the CAN requested that the, “March 20th hearing be delayed until such time that a thorough analysis of the proposed amendments to the residential parking requirement code can be performed and then disseminated at least 30 days before the hearing.” This request was made through a CNA resolution (see attached document).

Dzieza wants to understand why the commissioners recommended a change to zero minimum parking spaces from the .75 spaces-per-unit policy.

He criticized the commission for the sudden shift to zero without adequate explanation.

Dzieza argued that it is important for the community to have the opportunity to review and discuss the studies and data behind a zero-minimum parking decision. "The important thing in the process is dialogue, and we are not having that. We should have people speak in public and have the facts in front of us and the time to digest it."

Judy Bardin agreed with Dzieza, saying that the proposed zero parking minimums were presented to the CNA a week before the public hearing. "There is no way we could have learned or made our neighborhoods understand. It is really difficult to make people understand changes in regulations."

She commented that a drastic reduction in parking is a mistake.

Bardin raised the issue of electric vehicle charging. "People need spaces to charge their cars. If you reduce the parking to zero, even if you require a certain percentage to be electric car charging, there are no spaces for people to charge their car."

Bardin added that the transportation system in the city is not robust, saying that services are non-existent or limited.

According to Douglas Benson, having zero parking spaces would make it difficult for essential services such as trash and recycling pick-up to be carried out. He said it would also be equally challenging for plumbers and electricians to park their vehicles when making service calls.

"In my opinion, this proposal was made with the intention of increasing housing and decreasing building costs for developers, with the belief that the savings would be passed on to residents. However, developers are not charities and will charge what the market will bear. Building affordable housing requires government subsidies or support from charitable organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, and simply eliminating off-street parking is not an effective way to achieve this goal," he said.

Mark Flemming said that while it is a good idea that the proposed change in parking policy promotes a less automobile-oriented society, he had not seen any plans for providing alternative options.

"Without transportation alternatives in place, implementing such parking requirements or minimums could lead to negative consequences for the neighborhood. As a policy analyst, I understand the interconnectedness of various factors that affect transportation and housing, and it's important to address all of them," he said.

He encouraged the commissioners to consider the alternative transportation aspect and include it in the discussion of parking policy change.

The Planning Commission has extended the submission of written or voicemail comments until April 7.

Those who wish to submit a written comment may email Phillips at jphillip@ci.olympia.was.us.


8 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • Honestyandrealityguy

    Common sense please.

    Tuesday, March 21, 2023 Report this

  • KatAshe

    Refusing to provide adequate parking for potential residents will exclude all those who must commute to areas without public transportation. So many who chose to live in Olympia, must commute to their jobs, and ride share is not an option. I can personally think of one family, three of whom work outside Thurston county and one can’t commute with the other two due to different job locations, and different work schedules.

    Wednesday, March 22, 2023 Report this

  • olyhiker

    This will lead to people having to find somewhere to park that is not near their residence. This will make it easier for car thieves to steal their car. Plus, we don't exactly have the best weather in the world and nobody wants to walk blocks to get to their car.

    Wednesday, March 22, 2023 Report this

  • Buffie

    Mark Flemming hit it on the head. All the good intentions

    In the world regarding parking limits will simply come to unlivability and resentment if the transportation alternatives are not in place first. You can lead a horse to water but you cant make it drink...

    Wednesday, March 22, 2023 Report this

  • Yeti1981

    It's a catch 22, the need for transportation infrastructure cannot be known until the need exists. Removing parking minimums is a good thing for affordable housing, as previous testimony before the legislature during this session explained that the cost of one space can add as much as $60k to the final cost of a home. However, there also must be a balance. Getting that balance right will be a success for everyone. Nobody wants their neighborhood street crowded with cars. That is understandable, but are you comfortable with those streets being crowded with tents and all that comes with the issue of homelessness. The truth is no builder is ignorant of the fact that homes need parking (currently for the most part), but they also know that providing affordable housing is the number one priority. People should be able to afford a roof over their head. Every fee and expense in the development stage of a project is passed on to the consumer. So, maybe the right path is to give this idea a chance. Maybe the right idea is to allow builders to only put one space per home, or no spaces in some cases. For example, the Capitol Mall Triangle Plan is meant to create a city hub with transit oriented development. The overwhelming majority of business in that area is retail. With no intention to undervalue the retail worker, I remind folks that retail doesn't pay a great deal. So, the folks working those jobs also need an affordable place to live in close proximity to those jobs. If that is provided, the need for a car decreases.

    Wednesday, March 22, 2023 Report this

  • BobJacobs

    Just consider how people with no cars would engage in common daily activities like grocery shopping and taking kids to soccer games all over the county, not to mention commuting to jobs on the other side of town, which would require the use of two bus routes even if those are available.

    We are nowhere near the transportation infrastructure required to allow people to not have cars.

    Get real.

    Bob Jacobs, Olympia

    Wednesday, March 22, 2023 Report this

  • FordPrefect

    Perhaps if our buses weren’t being used as rolling drug-dens, ridership might improve.

    Intercity Transit is a boondoggle that costs us about $235M per year. https://www.intercitytransit.com/sites/default/files/2021-12/2022Budget.pdf

    Building homes with no access to parking is silly. People drive.

    Thursday, March 23, 2023 Report this

  • LindaD

    No parking requirements are a gift to developers, who will still charge full market rates, thus pocketing more profits. They're developers, not service providers. Slogging through the rain with our groceries, small children, or pushing our walkers substantially decreases our quality of life, assuming we can meet all our needs even walking. Public transportation is inadequate to even start to meet the need.

    It's delusional to think you can build, say, a hundred unit apartment and maybe a couple of hundred driving age residents, and assume none of them will own cars and that they will all find enough public transit to meet their needs. Planners need to remember they work for us, we don't live to fulfill their urban fantasies.

    Wednesday, March 29, 2023 Report this